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Elementary Science for Homeschoolers

Isabel Shaw

What it Takes

Compared with children in other countries, American children perform abysmally on science achievement tests. This failure to understand basic scientific concepts could have serious implications for the future. With technology developing at an ever-increasing rate, our future decision makers will need a core of basic knowledge to make informed decisions.

How can parents help their children achieve science literacy? They can provide an interesting environment, allow lots of time for observation, and let their kids get their hands dirty. Children are natural scientists, filled with curiosity and a desire to explore the world around them. Combine this natural curiosity with a few great resources, and kids not only learn to love science, but to love learning, as well.

Most homeschooling parents, myself included, do not follow a specific science curriculum with younger kids. There is simply too much variation in learning styles and interests among children. For instance, one of my daughters loves to work in her flower garden, but wouldn't pick up an insect if her life depended on it. Her sister barely notices flowers, but has an ever-growing (dead) bug collection, a live bug observatory, ant farm, and butterfly hatchery. They are both enjoying science, but approaching it very differently.

Getting Started

Homeschooling families know that a walk in a park or a day at the beach can be a springboard for months of "scientific" study. We often return from an outdoor activity with a daypack or bucket filled with collected treasures. An unusual rock, seashell, leaf, or pinecone is no longer just an interesting object; it's now one piece in a bigger puzzle. When my girls are able to identify something they've gathered (or seen), there is a distinct feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment.

For my family, knowing where and how to find answers to questions that come up is more important than memorizing grade-by-grade science facts. The Peterson Guides to Birds, Birds' Nests, Wildflowers, Insects, Shells, The Night Sky, etc. have played an invaluable role in this process. (The Golden Field Guides and the Audubon Field Guides are also excellent choices.)When a glistening dragonfly landed near my seven-year-old daughter and she yelled, "Quick, get the book so I can see what kind of dragonfly it is!" I knew our learning was on the right track.


While experiments, nature studies, and new discoveries are important and fun, a few good books are necessary to bring coherence to your science curriculum. There are so many great science books available that it would be impossible to list them all. Here are a few to get you started:

Eyewitness Science Series from Dorling Kindersley
Lush color photographs and illustrations make all of the Dorling Kindersley books a visual feast, and the science series is no exception. Some of the text may be sketchy, but you will never be disappointed with any DK Book.

Backyard Scientist Series by Jane Hoffman
The "ultimate hands-on science series" for young kids (ages 4-12). Lots of very simple hands-on experiments and activities using common household materials.

Books by Janice VanCleave
Described as "America's favorite science teacher," children love her wacky experiments and clear, concise explanations. Pick from any one of her 47 science book topics — they're all fabulous!

Bottle Biology: An Idea Book for Exploring the World Through Plastic Bottles & Other Recyclable Materials
Great ideas for an amazing array of activities and experiments that really work — all using recycled and discarded materials.

Magic School Bus Series by Joanna Cole & Bruce Degen
With zany Miss Frizzle in the driver's seat, there's no telling what will happen next to the kids in these books. Whether traveling through a digestive system or a hurricane, Miss Frizzle always manages to save the day, and shares interesting science facts along the way.

Science Supplies, Microscopes, and More

Science Supplies
For solid science with a sense of humor, try Wild Goose Company. Wild Goose sells activity books, chemicals, laboratory equipment, posters, and a very popular series of hands-on science kits. The kits — with names like "Crash & Burn Chemistry" or "Slime Chemistry" (winner of the Outstanding Toy Award from Parent's Choice Magazine) — contain all the materials that young scientists need to complete several entertaining and exciting experiments.

Loose in the Lab
Founded by a former partner of Wild Goose, this company offers the same high-quality, scientifically accurate kits and supplies with slightly more in-depth explanations.

Edmund Scientific Company's catalog
These supplies will inspire even the most reluctant scientist to experiment and have some fun.

At some point, most homeschooling families opt to purchase a microscope. High prices don't always mean high quality, so how can parents recognize a good microscope when they see one? Here are three companies that will help you choose:

Great Scopes
Operated by homeschoolers, this company offers discounted microscopes and supplies, as well as detailed assistance on how to purchase the scope that's right for you.

Lab Essentials, Inc.
This company will help you meet your needs while maintaining your budget. They also sell discounted scopes, which may have a scratch or a dent, but are in good working order.

Alternatives to Dissection
When dissection was introduced in the 1920s, it was thought to be a good learning tool. Today, many scientists agree that dissecting animals is no longer necessary or desirable. More effective and less expensive methods have been developed, and both the student and the animals benefit.

The National Anti-Vivisection Society provides free, hands-on alternatives to animal dissection for students and educators. Students can borrow state-of-the-art models and computer programs covering everything from human anatomy to frogs and pigs by calling NAVS — 800-888-NAVS (6287) — and reserving the desired materials.

Ready for More Ideas?

I've provided a few suggestions and ideas for science explorations, but planning exactly what your family will study is up to you. For more ideas, take a look at three great books that contain exceptionally detailed science recommendations:

The Complete Home Learning Source Book by Rebecca Rupp
This monumental book (almost 900 pages!) contains 200 pages of just about every science resource available.

Homeschool Your Child for Free by LauraMaery Gold and Joan M. Zielinski
Find 50 pages of free science resources for Internet learning.

Homeschooling Almanac by Mary and Michael Leppert
Here are comprehensive reviews of hundreds of science products — books, games, and programs.

Happy homeschooling!


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